Electrifying School Buses

Electrifying School Buses

school EV buses

Electric School Buses in the US are a hot conversation. To get a real view of what it’s all about, it’s worthwhile to take a look at why schools are starting to go electric, how an electric bus fleet actually operates, and who’s manufacturing electric school buses.

Benefits of electric over diesel

As with most EVs, the cost of operating a gas-powered vehicle is simply higher than that of operating an electric one. This comes from expenses for fuel and maintenance, including routine and non-routine checks and upgrades. Electric buses have no oil to change, spark plugs to check, or emission guidelines that regulate them. Such is the beauty of a vehicle with no combustion engine!

It’s impossible to talk about transportation for children without getting into its detrimental health effects. Approximately 7% of children in the US suffer from asthma. However, that number changes dramatically based on factors including location, socioeconomic background, and race. While asthma prevalence is no longer rising, it isn’t getting significantly better. In cities in the US, researchers have found that transportation pollution causes 25% of all new childhood asthma cases. 

School buses are a problem because of their idling time. Whether it’s sitting at the bus stop or in front of a school, even just a minute or two produces a lot of harmful fumes. Put several school buses in one place, and you have a real problem. Since they have no tailpipe emissions, this isn’t a problem with ebuses. Schools and parents needn’t worry about children’s health because these emissionless vehicles are just what the doctor (and the CDC) ordered.

Another benefit of electric school buses is their predictable usage. Unlike city buses, they spend a large amount of time parked. Unless classes have field trips, the buses sit unus during the school day or after kids go home. Also, the majority of these vehicles sit unused during the summer when electricity demands are often the highest and take the greatest toll on the power grid. This makes them perfect targets for vehicle-to-grid (V2G) integration. 

While the technology is not yet available on all buses, it’s becoming more common. School districts and manufacturers are developing systems so these rolling batteries can help balance local energy demands. School buses will, in theory, take power from the grid when it’s most plentiful, store it, and return that power when it’s needed most.

Switching Costs

Electric schools buses are more expensive than diesel ones. There’s no way around it. However, numerous programs want to reduce that burden for school districts by offering assistant to offset the purchase prices. For example, the 2021 American Rescue Plan included funding to support electric bus purchases for schools in underserved areas. Additionally, California’s Central Coast Community Energy has a program aimed at covering up to 50% of the cost of new ebuses. 

Schools in states with high solar energy production like California, Texas, and Florida can especially benefit. Many utilities have lower pricing available during the “duck curve” hours when there is a significant amount of surplus energy available. Since school buses are usually parked and charging during those hours, the system couldn’t work better!

Charging needs

Any fleet has particular needs. However, school buses have specific requirements because of their unique usage in the world of fleet vehicles. Some of these are hardware needs, while others can be met by robust, intelligent software.

First, any electric fleet needs charging stations! Vehicles can charge on either AC or DC chargers. High-powered AC chargers are great options for electric school bus fleets as their idle time gives the buses plenty of time for charging. Add in a few fast charging stations to make sure every bus is ready to go right when you need it. 

Fleets work on a different schedule from standard vehicles. School buses can’t be charging up when students are standing at the bus stop. For this reason, a good fleet solution needs to include an integrated scheduling system that allows operators to define goals for vehicles, including how charged up they need to be and when they need to get there.

It’s necessary for fleet charging stations to be able to balance the load of all the vehicles charging. This means making sure that power isn’t being divided between chargers when it doesn’t need to be. Also, it means being able to dictate how many chargers run on a single power panel. It’s an important feature for any electric fleet. 

Who’s in the market

A few companies have stepped into the ebus space and made names for themselves as reliable suppliers for school districts across the country. The LionC Lion Electric school buses made news in the spring of 2021 when First Students ordered 260 buses for use in Quebec. At the time, it was the largest order of electric school buses ever made in North America. Last summer, Blue Bird hit a sales milestone of having sold or had on order 500 electric buses. IC Bus creates buses with some of the largest batteries in the industry. They are V2G compatible and feature a range from 70 miles to over 200 depending on the battery. Finally, Thomas Built Buses has delivered scores of buses, it has recently been back in the news for a specific vehicle that’s been operating excellently for the last year in Alaska. Thomas Built electric buses are also V2G compatible and have a range of 138 miles. 

The Bottom Line

Ebus transition is happening with, forgive the turn of phrase, lightning speed! Schools looking to lower their operating costs or wanting to improve student health already know that electric buses are the answer to both questions. If you want to know more about electrifying your school fleet, reach out and let us help!